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Vatican II document urges church to look outward


Delving into ‘joy’ and ‘hope’

More than 80 priests of the Archdiocese of New Orleans convened April 30 for a study day on “Gaudium et Spes” (“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”), a Vatican II document addressed not just to the members of the Catholic Church but “to the whole of humanity.” The apostolic constitution was released 50 years ago on the final day of the Council, Dec. 7, 1965. Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, top left, framed the discussion in the context of the document’s first line: “The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of our time, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” Archbishop Gregory Aymond called the document an important accomplishment of the Second Vatican Council.

“Gaudium et Spes” (“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) was the final apostolic constitution promulgated by the Council fathers in 1965, and it holds a place of importance because its target audience went beyond Catholics to the rest of the world.
“When the outlines of the decrees were given to Pope John XXIII (before the Council began), he looked at them and after discussing this with the cardinals, he said, ‘There’s something missing. Most of these decrees are about us, but what about our conversation with and witness to the world?’” Archbishop Aymond told a priests’ study day on “Gaudium et Spes” April 30.
Jesuit Father Fred Kammer led more than 80 priests in a review of the document. Priests were grouped by four ordination “cohorts” – essentially those who were ordained before Vatican II (before 1964); those who were ordained during the years right after the Council (1964-77); those ordained from 1978-91; and those ordained from 1992 to the present, called the “millennials.”
Then, for table discussions, priests were asked to talk about the document with members of the other ordination groups.
Father Kammer said “Gaudium et Spes” originated “in a call from Cardinals Suenens, Montini and Lercaro at the close of the first session of the council for the church to look outward and to address the world’s needs.”
Father Kammer highlighted six themes:
1. The sanctity and dignity of the human person. The fact that the human person is made in “the image and likeness of God” is “the foundational concept that underlies all of Catholic social thought. ... This dignity and transcendence is not dependent on any accomplishment, any level of education or wealth, or membership in any group, race or nation. Likewise, it is not taken away by any birth defect, any disease, any crime, any poverty or membership in any suspect group. It simply is.”
2. Sacred and social and the common good. Father Kammer said the church has stressed that the “individual person is essentially social in nature.”
3. Solidarity. St. John Paul II made the term “solidarity” extremely relevant by insisting that “solidarity is undoubtedly a Christian virtue” and also by urging action on behalf of “God’s beloved poor.”
4. Dialogue and reconciliation. “The Council members committed the Catholic community to dialogue not only with other Christians and people of faith but with the world itself,” Father Kammer said.

5. War and the ways of war. “It is at the Council – in the wake of two devastating world wars – that the Church more fully embraces Christian nonviolence and conscientious objection,” Father Kammer said.

6. The church and the world. “The document puts the church squarely at the service of humanity,” Father Kammer said. “Catholicism broke out of the sanctuary, chancery and parish to stand squarely in the heart of the polis.”

Priests of the archdiocese will gather in convocation in September.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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